Excerpted from page 20 of the June 2019 edition of AOA Focus.
Optometry's Meeting® is the profession's premier event for AOA members and an opportunity unlike any other where membership takes center stage. Likewise, center stage is where the AOA's leadership will transition as incoming President Barbara L. Horn, O.D., formally takes the mantle for current President Samuel D. Pierce, O.D.
In a Q&A with AOA Focus, the two discuss AOA triumphs and challenges and the road ahead for the profession.
What do you feel has been the greatest challenge this past year?
Dr. Pierce: I would say our greatest challenge is preparing for the year 2020. Not only do we want the profession to be prepared for 2020, but we also want our patients to get the message of how important it is to get a comprehensive eye examination to make sure their eyes are healthy and seeing the best they can. 2020 is definitely our year, and we're going to own it. That's why our partnership with Think About Your Eyes is so important to ensuring we're all moving in the same direction with this message.
Another component is our "always on" media advocacy that puts this priority messaging front and center, where it matters most. It's a challenge coordinating something of this scale, but remember that another word for challenge is opportunity.
Dr. Horn: I believe one of our greatest challenges is letting our profession itself know the importance of speaking with one voice. The AOA, our volunteers and leaders do so much to fight for our right to practice and care for patients that it's a 24/7/365 labor of love. That said, too often, I hear the familiar refrain, "but what have they done lately?" The answer is a lot. Your AOA stepped up against the FTC's prescription paperwork mandate, weighed in about the necessity for high standards in the accreditation of our schools and colleges of optometry, spoke out against harmful legislation that would impede the way we practice—and those outside the profession listened. It's time we meet doctors, students and faculty where they are, on social media, in their local societies, meetings and on campuses, to show how we're making a difference.
Likewise, what do you feel the AOA's greatest accomplishment has been this past year?
Dr. Pierce: In my opinion, the greatest accomplishment for AOA and our state affiliates this past year has been getting our Future Practice Initiative up and going, and we've already seen the effects of it based on how organized ophthalmology is trying to counter us. That's been especially interesting, because in a request for donations to fight optometry, put out in early 2019 to combat our efforts, ophthalmology said 21 states are seeking scope enhancement with another 28 in the near future—that's 49 states! There's no doubt that we've definitely got their attention.
Dr. Horn: I think the Future Practice Initiative is one of the greatest drives the AOA has ever championed, and it's a testament to what we can accomplish when we work together. States are eager to move forward on behalf of their patients, and the AOA is ready, willing and able to assist—it's phenomenal. We're seeing the profession's leaders working hand in hand with our volunteers and AOA and affiliate staff to do everything we can to ensure our doctors can practice to the fullest extent of their training and education, to the benefit of our patients. Everything we do is about the patient, and if it's good for the patient, it's good for the profession.
What are your expectations for 2020 and beyond?
Dr. Pierce: We'll continue to have a greater emphasis and focus on optometric scope of practice, and the AOA is ready to help in the states any way we can. The future of practice of optometry is no longer wrapped up in the commerce of contact lenses and spectacles but in the professional aspects of medical eye care, taking care of the eye health and vision of our patients. We need to offer our patients more and take care of them at a higher level because their demands will be greater as we see the baby boomers continue to get older. We know in the future there will be huge gaps in care that ophthalmology cannot fill, so optometry is perfectly poised to fill those gaps and meet the eye health needs of an aging population.
Dr. Horn: I can tell you no one's more excited for 2020, this once-in-an-ever opportunity. This is our chance to pull out all the stops and promote what it is we do for our patients and our contribution to Americans' health care. But it's not only our neighbors and communities that I'm looking forward to reaching. I'm also talking about our colleagues in the medical community, the primary care providers and pediatricians, as well as insurers who need to know the level of eye health and vision care we provide. This is our time to let everyone know the value of in-person, comprehensive eye examinations, and we're able to do that through our partnership with the national public awareness campaign, Think About Your Eyes. We're poised to connect our message to attentive eyes and ears. I'm ready to get started, and I hope you join me.
In a virtual kick-off, the AOA launches Leadership Institute with 130 doctors of optometry from across the country. A project of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, the Institute is a yearlong program designed to grow and support the next generation of leaders in the profession.
At the 2021 Leaders Summit, AOA-member volunteers set priorities for the year and launched new initiatives to lead the profession forward.